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Murder In Ballymacarrett - The Untold Story 64 pages. East Belfast Historical and Cultural Society. 2003 £5.00 (inc p & p)
“It is fair to say however that the republican propaganda (spin) machine throughout the conflict in Northern Ireland has been clever, sharp, focussed and has been very successful in getting their (the republican) message across. Unfortunately many have used this as their source of reference for research and other books on the events on the events in our country. That message on many occasions has been false.
In contrast the Protestant story throughout the troubles has in effect remained the ‘untold story’”
Murder In Ballymacarrett – The Untold Story. Page 3
THIS SUBSTANTIAL booklet has been written about the events of 27th and 28th June 1970. It is an attempt to tell the untold story of what happened during what republicans have called “The Battle (or siege) of St Matthews” in East Belfast.
Murder In Ballymacarrett claims – with some justification – that these events had a significant and lasting impact throughout the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
However, the tragic events that occurred in this part of East Belfast actually had their origins over the other side of the city - in West Belfast. For on Saturday 27th June 1970, the Shankill Road was packed with thousands of Orangemen, bands and spectators. They were all participating in the Shankill’s mini 12th parade – the annual Whiterock parade.
Bright sunshine added to the carnival like atmosphere of the parade. However, this didn’t last for long. As usual, crowds of Protestant teenagers walked some distance ahead of the main Orange parade. However, as these youngsters reached the junction of Mayo Street and Springfield they were confronted by a large Catholic mob. As the Sunday News (28/6/70) later reported:
“Following a rendition of the Soldiers Song the Catholics threw stones and bottles. Catholics broke through the police lines and hand-to-hand fighting broke out. Police separated them. The parade was then attacked several times and a petrol bomb thrown. During the fighting the parade was stopped, two shops burned, several smashed up and gunfire echoed across the area”.
An innocent Protestant spectator – Mr William ‘Tommy’ Reid – later died of injuries received during this attack.
In what seems to have been a well co-ordinated plan, the northern fringes of the greater Shankill were later also attacked. Here, Republicans fired around 200 shots. This vicious and totally unprovoked attack left three Protestants dead.
However, much worse was to follow when the East Belfast Orangemen and bands returned home from the Whiterock parade. Following its traditional route, the parade skirted the republican Short Strand. However, at the junction of Seaforde Street and the Newtownards Road, stone-throwing republicans attacked it.
The police moved in and order was restored about 7 pm. However this peace didn’t last for long. For as Murder In Ballymacarrett notes:
“The spark that lit the fire for the next and more serious phase of the trouble on the road that night is not in dispute, people from Short Strand waved a tricolour at the local Protestant population. Not a very clever idea, unless it was a means to an end, which it clearly was.”
Republican gunmen then opened up on innocent Protestant by-standers. Two men – Robert James ‘Jimmy’ McCurrie and Robert ‘Ginger’ Neill - were killed.
The Provos used Seaforde Street and then the grounds of St. Matthew's Chapel as their base. However, instead of intervening and having the immediate area cordoned off, the authorities did nothing.
Naturally, the local Protestants fought back - initially with bricks and petrol bombs. Later on guns were used to defend themselves against this act of Provo aggression.
As well as reporting the facts, the booklet poses many questions – particularly if there was any “degree of collusion between the Catholic Church (locally) and PIRA?”
Murder In Ballymacarrett meticulously sets the scene. It gives brief but excellent background introduction on the growth and development of both Protestant and Catholic areas of East Belfast. It also provides a summary of the ‘Troubles’.
I also liked the way the booklet was constructed. Various subjects are dealt with clearly and concisely in various chapters. For instance The Brethren Return Home details the route of the East Belfast lodges and bands and Defending the Community recalls the way Protestants fought back against the IRA attack. Look out for the chapter entitled A Fighter Recalls. This is a gripping eyewitness account from a Protestant who on the day, took up arms to defend his people.
There is also an in depth look at the lives of the two East Belfast Protestants killed by the Provos. It was slightly eerie reading about folks who had their lives so tragically taken from them.
The East Belfast Historical and Cultural Society are to be congratulated on this booklet. Murder In Ballymacarrett is an excellent read. It has extensive quotes from normal East Belfast folks and is quite ‘folksy’ in parts. However, it is also fast paced in the same way a novel can be.
I’d highly recommend Murder In Ballymacarrett to anyone interested in this ‘untold story’. My only criticism is that this booklet is horribly under priced – it’s on sale for £3.00 (excluding post and packaging). I’d say it’s worth at least a fiver of anyone’s money.
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